Writing in 1988 in the introduction to the short fiction collection “Shrapnel”, Jordan K. Weisman reveals the thinking behind the premise of the BattleTech game setting:
The BattleTech game, supplements, scenarios, and other related fictional products are all offshoots of an idea that came to me in 1984, when my own imagination was captured by the strong images that the Japanese had created for their animated television series featuring huge, walking battle machines. Though the graphics for these man-like and insect-like monoliths were fantastic, the Japanese storylines still left my Western mind unsatisfied. And so I set off to create my own fictional universe where men used 10- or 12-meter tall monsters of destruction called BattleMechs to carry their endless struggles for domination across the stars.
What I wanted was a universe that had a taste of the alien, but that did not contain aliens. As in other science fiction, we produced this effect of strangeness combined with familiarity by changing only one of the basic premises we take for granted in the “real world.” In contemporary society, new technology is automatically superior to what came before. That means a computer that is only five years old soon becomes completely obsolete. It was that premise that we turned on its head for BattleTech.
Comparing the BattleTech game to its animated sources, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that the designers were ignorant of the cartoons and interpolated their own setting from a bunch of model kit covers. (I know because I’ve done it!) The truth is, they consciously appropriated what they liked from the cartoons… and then intentionally made something more in line with how they thought a giant robot setting should work. Interestingly enough, a central axiom of the game setting would eventually be thrown out with the introduction of the Clans, resulting in a noticeable loss in charm.